One successful entrepreneur reflects on the lessons she has gleaned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I reflect on the last six months I realize this situation has brought back my connection to what matters in my life: spending quality time with friends and family, laying in the grass at the local park and purging things I no longer need. As a longtime small business owner, this time has brought me back to what being resilient really means. COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, not all bad.
I grew up in a small business family, and I grew up scrappy. My dad worked day and night to build his retail floor covering business and make a life for his family. With no college degree, he had to make it work. I'm proud that I grew up around such dedication and grit. I learned that a big part of being a great entrepreneur (and a resilient entrepreneur) means you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I believe another contributing factor to my resilience is the fact that I literally have titanium throughout my body. That's right … What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and I'm living proof of that after breaking 27 bones in my arms, legs, and face in a car crash with a firetruck at age 22. This indeed gave me an amazing amount of perspective about life – what's important and what you should fight for.
I launched my business, Hera Hub, in 2011 and have slowly grown over the years. The last six months have been difficult, but we still have six out of our eight locations open, and we're supporting our members every day. I'm proud that we are not only alive but well positioned to grow and thrive in 2021. Perhaps slow and steady really does win the race?
What makes a business and its founders resilient?
There are a great many factors that contribute to resilience, including beliefs we hold of the world, of ourselves and others; information we have access to; biases, skills, and education; mental processes and behaviors. Based on research, here are, what I believe, to be five key components to resilience.
Vision is about your sense of purpose, goals and personal vision for yourself. This area of focus is most important, because all other areas are guided by what it is you want to achieve. Having a clear vision allows you to be decisive when facing tough choices and to maintain perspective when facing challenges, like a 50% drop in business due to COVID-19.
It's easy to get distracted by unimportant details and events if you don't have anything specific you're working toward. Vision is about having clarity so that when things get tough, you know what's important and what isn't. It keeps you focused so you achieve your goals. My vision has always been to support over 20,000 women in the launch and growth of their business. I had set a goal of achieving this by the end of 2020, but for a variety of reasons, fell a bit short of that. My commitment to resilience is to figure out a way to still make that happen … late is better than never, right? I will not give up!
Composure is about regulating emotions. The fight-or-flight response of the brain loves to flare up when facing conflict or hearing about a sudden change. This response prevents you from properly accessing your ability to think critically. Sadly, the alerts on our various digital devices cause this reaction. Being able to overcome that instinctive emotional response and maintain your composure when a breaking news alert comes through enables you to recognize hidden opportunities and solve problems in novel ways. Turn off those alerts and stay focused.
It's also the little things. Composure is not just the big crises that we face but also the little everyday things. Getting emotional in a traffic jam is never useful, so why bother getting worked up? Maintaining composure means keeping calm so you can save your energy for what is important.
Interpretation bias can also cause you to lose your composure. If your customer leaves you a voicemail and says, "I need to talk to you. Please call me later," do you panic? Do you worry about getting into trouble for something? The statement from your client in this example is actually neutral with no direct implied negativity. It could just as easily be good news.
Composure is not just about being able to return to a state of poise but is also about considering your own beliefs and expectations that produce emotions in the first place. For example, if you expect nothing will ever go wrong with your project, then you're likely in for a big shock. Compare that with a healthier belief that, most likely, something will go wrong, and when it does, you'll manage it. Again, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Creativity and innovative problem-solving is incredibly useful when facing challenges along the way. This is what the reasoning domain is all about. This domain needs composure for you to keep your cool, as well as vision, so you know what goals to direct your actions toward.
Anticipate and plan. Like composure, it's not just about applying critical thinking during a crisis but also about taking action ahead of time to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. In fact, it's mostly about proactive action. An example is going to the dentist regularly, so you won't need a root canal later. Think through how things may go wrong and take action ahead of time to prevent or minimize the impact, and think through how you'll deal with different scenarios.
Be resourceful. Having the right information, tools, techniques and people available to you can help you solve problems effectively and find more efficient ways to reach your goals. Resourcefulness is a skill we need to actively build; the more resourceful we are, the easier it becomes to make unusual connections and find innovative ways forward.
See opportunity in change. This is what we had to do. Overnight, we had to move our daily in-person events to a virtual format. We had to learn to over-communicate. Finding this opportunity in the midst of chaos has helped us strengthen our community.
Persistence is the key to success. Einstein pointed out the importance of persistence for success when he said, "It’s not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." In a globalized world, success is no longer a given. We need to be willing to work hard and smart, and stay with our challenges if we hope to achieve something, especially if you want to achieve something great.
Learn from mistakes. Rarely will we do things right the first time. And even when doing something we know well, eventually we will make mistakes. At home, with friends, at work, mistakes creep in everywhere. What is important is how we react to them. Admonishing ourselves doesn't help. Instead, objectively look at mistakes, find lessons in them and don't define yourself by them. I talked about this in my TedX talk.
I admire the founder of the Wing, Audry Gilman, for speaking out about where she feels her team went wrong and what she has learned. Here is one of those stories.
To me, this is the most important factor of resilience (and was why I started a coworking space). We are social beings. The brain has a deep fundamental need for connection with others to be able to thrive. The brain has dedicated neural structures to recognize facial expressions, while mirror neurons fire within the brain to help us empathize with others. We are, after all, in this together, so what we do and focus on is not just for us, but to help our communities and improve our world.
In a complex world, few of us can achieve anything meaningful alone, so it's crucial to build support networks so we can both have a safety net and also be that safety net for others. The retreat into our homes has left us isolated, and we realize (whether we take advantage of it or not) that we need community.
What is your superpower?
I love to ask this question as an icebreaker at events. I would love to hear from you! Let's compare scars.